1990 Honda Accord

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$893–$3,949

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By 

Los Angeles Times

Old trivia: In 1972, the 15,007,034th Volkswagen bug was built, and the marque overtook Ford's Model T as the best-selling car in automotive history. The crass might note that a Tin Lizzie was about the only thing a Beetle could overtake.

New minutiae: Ford is battling back. Since 1980, the company has sold 7.2 million Escorts, and currently this somewhat unpoetic vehicle is the world's most popular car.

Yet in second place and quietly closing--with Volkswagen sadly lolling in the back seat awaiting some future automotive Armageddon--comes the Honda Accord.

It was introduced in 1976. More than 5 million Accords have rolled worldwide since then. And its annual sales in the United States are wheel-to-wheel with Ford's Escort.

"Quite frankly, I can't think of any other car that has had it together like the Accord has had it together, for the number of years it has," said Gerald Bengtson, vice president of marketing for American Honda Motor Co. of Gardena. He was talking of the harmony of Accord.

"Other people have had problems (in the first year) and then did things to improve their cars," Bengtson continued. "But no one has really put the complete package out there from Day 1 and continued to improve upon it."

A result of that, he added, was an initial corps of satisfied owners that has become a legion loyal to one generation of Accords after the other.

The net result is the 1990 Honda Accord.

It not only follows but also tops its own tough act as the most refined amalgam of pleasing function and mechanical achievement--and transportation as trustworthy as that 15,007,034th Volkswagen.

Owen Edwards, author of "Elegant Solutions," which addresses objects of affection and the affection of objects, touches this precise nervein noting our daily need for things to be "admirable and intelligent, generous and sound, functional and spiritual."

Edwards could easily situate the Honda Accord alongside his selection of graceful functionaries: the dollar bill, Pears soap, the Talon zipper, the Zippo lighter, Oreo cookies, espadrilles, Clincher softballs and the Buck folding knife.

The Accord is a car of great styling because it is simplicity born of the gentle nondescript of previous generations. Nothing schmancy. Nice lines and flares and rake of glass. Just nice.

Yet . . . underneath, clearly sniffing for the sport coupe driver who presumes to own every entrance ramp and interesting corner between you and Century City, is a virile engine producing a capable 130 horsepower. That's quite enough to bring smoke and alley cat wails from the front tires but sedate enough to suggest total respectability if called to school meetings and teacher-parent admonitions are suspected.

Accord prices for six models range from $12,000 to $17,000, and in this decade of the $1 panhandle, that's close to giveaway.

Yet . . . the sticker price o n the majority of Accords includes such pleasantries as variable assist power steering, air conditioning, a medium-quality stereo system, cruise control and power windows, locks and side mirrors.

Would that this list of attachments and mechanical advantages was impeccable.

But despite the rapid transition of air bags and anti-lock brake systems from luxury options to standard equipment on many cars, the wonderful Accord comes with neither small wonder.

Instead, its brakes are an antiquated disc-drum setup, and the federal government's 1990 passive-restraint requirements are met by irritating, motorized shoulder straps that seduce even the responsible into forgetting the seat belt.

Bengtson says it is not oversight, just a matter of cost.

A driver-side air bag and anti-lock brakes on the Accord, he estimated, would cost $1,500. That might be considered small change to anyone thumbing out $50,000 for a Mercedes--but it represents a 10% price hike to Honda buyers.

Rather than impose that premium ("a grand here or thereon a $12,000 car will make or break a deal"), Bengtson said, Honda is examining ways of reducing production costs to find price room "so we can include these features (air bags and anti-lock brakes) in future models."

"It is not going to be this year, and it may not be in total next year. But it could be by 1992," he said.

The new Accord is longer, lower and wider than last year's sibling. The extra length allows a sportier slope to the windshield and rear window. The additional length and width combined with Honda's multiple-link suspension system and rigid unibody construction also flattens the ride and the discomforts of dip, roll and watching your Ray-Bans slide the length of the dashboard on their lenses.

Speaking of lenses . . . since carbide lamps first parted the dark, headlight glass has always focused and directed the night vision of automobiles. In this year's Honda Accord, the lenses are no more than clear covers because segmented reflectors concentrate and control the light.

The system allows more efficient, lower profile lights to blend permanently with frontal lines rather than shattering them with great, staring pop-up headlights.

There's a further example of Honda's technological talent in the installation of twin engine shafts, mounted parallel to the crankshaft, that counter-rotate to cancel the inertial forces, that is, vibration created by the movement of the pistons and connecting rods.

Add a five-speed (four-speed automatics are available throughout the series) that's already in the Gearbox Hall of Fame for smoothness and heft, and you have a decorum of drive train that is quantum leaps ahead of any car in Accord's class.

Now round out the mechanical package with an efficient, albeit elderly braking system, and nifty, highly communicative steering. This combination of engine, transmission and steering will tame inefficiencies among the unknowing and, for the willing driver, will refresh precision and skills faster than the sight of a CHP cruiser.

The same sedate efficiency of the Accord's exterior is carried into its cabin, where the control layout is familiar and seats (particularly the fronts with adjustable lumbar support) are so comfortable that they are barely noticed.

It is roomier, particularly in the rear half, than last year's model and wears more glass. Vision is omni-directional. The decor is unobtrusive fabrics, vinyls and plastics with only one horror--a veneer of velour that makes door panels appear to be upholstered in kiwi fruit.

The overall pleasure, however, is the abundance owners will receive for the relatively small amount they have to pay.

As a matter of fact, the Accord EX offers only one factory option--for anyone willing to splurge $80 on floor mats.

1990 Honda Accord EX

The Good Refined, high performance beyond requirements of most owners. Loyalty, reliability and fun factors of a pedigreed German shepherd. Enormous value.

The Bad No antilock brakes. No air bags.

The Ugly Fake velour interior trim.

Cost Base: $16,595. As tested: $16,675.

Engine Four cylinders, 16 valves, 2.2 liters, developing 130 horsepower.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 9.8 seconds. Top speed, manufacturer's estimate, 125 m.p.h. Fuel economy, city-highway average, 24 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 2,989 pounds.

Rebate Program None.


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